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Facts about influenza

By Dr. Shankar Kurra • Oct 16, 2017 at 10:00 AM

"Flu season" in the United States can begin as early as October and last until late May.

During this time, flu viruses are circulating at higher levels in the U.S. population. Every year 20 percent of Americans get the flu, 36,000 Americans die from flu-related illnesses and 226,000 on average are hospitalized.

Because of this, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older, including pregnant women and people with medical conditions. Exceptions include life-threatening allergies to the vaccine components; history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome; and moderate to severe illness with or without fever.

When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through that community.


Did you know?

• Influenza (the flu) can be a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Anyone can get sick from the flu.

• People with flu can spread it to others. Influenza viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are up to about 6 feet away or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

• Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

• Some people, such as older adults, pregnant women, and very young children as well as people with certain long-term medical conditions are at high risk of serious complications from the flu. Medical conditions include chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, heart disease, neurologic conditions and pregnancy.

• Many people use the term “stomach flu” to describe illnesses with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria or even parasites. While vomiting, diarrhea, and being nauseous or “sick to your stomach” can sometimes be related to the flu — more commonly in children than adults — these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza.

• Annual vaccination is important because influenza is unpredictable, flu viruses are constantly changing and immunity from vaccination declines over time.


Influenza vaccines: Myth vs. fact

Many people have concerns about the influenza vaccines. Here are two common reasons why people might not get their vaccination and the facts of why an annual influenza vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others from the influenza virus.

• First of all, flu vaccines CANNOT cause the flu. The viruses in flu vaccines are killed. The most common side effect that a person is likely to experience is soreness where the injection was given. This is generally mild and usually goes away after a day or two.

• Many people think you don't need the flu vaccine this year if you got it last year. However, CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for just about everyone 6 months and older, even when the viruses the vaccine protects against have not changed from the previous season. The reason for this is that a person's immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get the “optimal” or best protection against the flu.

There is no evidence-based reason to refuse or delay vaccines. It is important that we achieve community immunity as a way to decrease the chance of spreading influenza. We encourage you to make an appointment with your primary care provider and get you influenza vaccination.


Dr. Shankar Kurra is the senior vice president of medical affairs at Fisher-Titus Medical Center and is board certified in internal medicine.

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